Upended? New rule is making Texans question the balance of academics and extracurriculars
THE Alamo State, as many people know, takes its high school sports seriously; its dance teams and marching bands as well. So it came as no surprise earlier this month when the initial effect of the state's new ``no pass no play'' rule -- requiring a passing grade of 70 on all academic subjects to participate in extracurricular activities -- was suddenly the talk of Texas.Skip to next paragraph
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In San Antonio, inch-high headlines on the front page of the city's largest newspaper declared that one high school's baseball team had been ``struck out'' by the new rule, with 11 ballplayers benched. The next day, the Dallas Morning News used only slightly less ink in front-page headlines to report that the new rule had struck ``a sour note'' for members of a suburban Dallas high school band: Thirty musicians from the 108-member group would be ineligible for a combination band festival and ski trip because of poor grades.
While the outcry is no cause for astonishment, the support the ``no pass no play'' rule continues to garner is. From among principals, teachers, parents, and even coaches and students, there appears to be a consensus that a better balance between academics and extracurricular activities is needed. It's a consensus that is building momentum around the country.
Here in Texas, the one serious objection being raised to the new regulations is that the Legislature, in approving the new regulations, may have been too harsh, too abrupt. The rules governing participation in extracurricular activities are part of a comprehensive statewide education reform bill passed last June. The bill closely followed recommendations of a select committee headed by Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot.
``The problem we have with this law [pertaining to extracurricular activities] is that it is purely punitive,'' says Harold Massey, executive director of the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals (TASSP) here. ``There's nothing motivational about it.'' With that in mind, the TASSP is sponsoring legislation to amend the law in order to allow students some flexibility, without ``going back to the old system.''
What his organization supports, says Mr. Massey, is a law that ``stops extracurriculars from interfering with the basics and the curriculum day,'' but that also recognizes the value of such activities as sports, music, drama, and academic competitions in maintaining student interest and developing special talents.
Others, including many legislators and Gov. Mark White, agree that the regulations on extracurriculars could use some fine-tuning. But the underlying feeling is that, before the law took effect, the basic school day was operating at the mercy of out-of-class activities. Now, that reasoning continues, such activities will be put back in their proper place.
The question is, just what is their proper place?
The Texas law states that any student who receives a grade lower than 70 out of 100 in any academic class for a six-week grading period will be ineligible for the following six-week grading period to participate in any extracurricular activity sponsored or sanctioned by the school district. That moves the passing grade up from 60, which before the new law was the generally accepted passing grade, and increases from four to five the number of courses a student must pass.
In addition, the state's new Board of Education has ruled that no student may have more than 10 absences a year for extracurriculars, and that no more than eight hours may be spent each week on such after-school activities as band or athletic practice -- and that includes travel time to games and other competitions.